The NCAA tournament has gutted 64 teams, leaving four teams sparring for the championship during this year's Final Four.
Many college hoops fans likely placed Florida this far through the bracket, but No. 7 UConn and No. 8 Kentucky have destroyed many predictions en route to earning unlikely Final Four bids. While No. 2 Wisconsin is hardly a Cinderella school, the Badgers were not expected to top No. 1 Arizona.
Per ESPN Fantasy Sports' Twitter page, most ESPN brackets contain one or zero of the correct Final Four squads.
Only hit one of the final four teams? You aren't alone. 56% of brackets accurately predicted 1/4 teams. 28% went 0/4. #MarchMadness— ESPN Fantasy Sports (@ESPNFantasy) March 31, 2014
Now that they're here, what will it take for of these four schools will earn the championship crown? No team is assembled the same, so they all hold different blueprints to winning the title.
|Sat., April 5||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|Sat., April 5||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
|Mon., April 7||National Championship (Teams TBD)||9:10 p.m.||CBS|
Florida: Defense Wins Championships
For the Florida Gators' sake, that "defense wins championships" mantra better be true.
According to KenPom, the Gators sport college basketball's best defensive efficiency rating, faring a fraction better than the recently eliminated Arizona Wildcats. Connecticut is the next best of the remaining schools at No. 10, with Kentucky at No. 40 and Wisconsin at No. 45.
That means Florida holds an advantage over the field, but it also means other defensively stout squads have made their maker. Ohio State (No. 3) and VCU (No. 6) each suffered second-round exits despite their high defensive marks, showing that stopping the other team only matters for those who can also put the ball in the basket.
Florida, who is currently enjoying a 30-game winning streak, has not lost since Dec. 2. That loss, however, came at the hands of UConn, its next opponent. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Final Four rematches bode well for the regular season victor.
Good news for UConn, which plays Florida. Last 4 teams to beat a team in the reg. season and then meet in Final Four all won the rematch.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 31, 2014
The Gators can score, but they'll have to stop Shabazz Napier and the Huskies in order to make the championship game. During their last meeting, the star guard drained five of the team's 11 three-pointers in a 65-64 victory.
UConn needed all those deep balls to squeak out the narrowest of victories. Baring another long-range barrage, Billy Donovan's squad should defend its way to a title.
UConn: Get Two More Terrific Games from Shabazz Napier
Up until now, the Huskies have jumped on Napier's back and enjoyed the ride. Asking one man to carry the burden all the way to a championship is a lot to ask, but UConn needs two more transcendent games from its star senior to win it all.
During the tournament, the guard has averaged 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. According to ESPN The Magazine's Twitter handle, he has attributed to 45 percent of the team's points.
The last time he failed to record a double-digit scoring tally, the Huskies suffered a 33-point loss to Louisville. Remember that earlier piece about Napier killing the Gators from deep earlier this season? He missed nine out of 10 three-point attempts during that loss to the Cardinals.
Another than junior DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut has no other dependable sources of offense. Per KenPom, it's the worst remaining offensive club in the Final Four, rating 50th in adjusted offensive efficiency while the other three schools reside in the top 20.
So no pressure, Shabazz, but we're going to need another 25/5/5 game against the nation's premier defense. And then one more during the championship game.
Kentucky: Cash In at Foul Line
Kentucky ranks first with 1,101 free-throw attempts, but it shoots a paltry 68.5 percent from the charity strike. Young teams have shot themselves in the foot before at the foul line, so Kentucky can't afford to squander its chances for easy points.
The Wildcats have shot 71.6 percentage at the free-throw line this tournament, enhancing the mark by sinking 22 of 27 attempts during a 74-69 victory. Had they shot their usual 68.5 percent, they would have earned four fewer easy points.
Meanwhile, Louisville—another poor foul-shooting team at 66.1 percent—made 13 of its 23 attempts during the narrow defeat. That's a difference between dancing in the Final Four and sitting at home.
Wisconsin shoots a much better 74.1 percent, so the Badgers are less likely to throw the game away on unguarded buckets. A few points here and there may seem like splitting hairs, but Kentucky is a freshman-filled squad that has won four tournament games by a combined 17 points.
If they don't hit their foul shots, the Wildcats will eventually find themselves on the losing end of one of those close calls.
Wisconsin: Keep Riding Frank Kaminsky
Wisconsin has discovered a formula for tournament success: Feed the ball to seven-foot center Frank Kaminsky. Repeat.
The junior didn't need to break a sweat during the Badgers' second-round rout over American, but he has since become a focal point of Bo Ryan's offense. In the past three games combined, the big man has gone 27-of-46 shooting for 66 points.
His best effort came in the Elite Eight, when his 28 points and 11 rebounds propelled the Badgers to victory over the favored Arizona Wildcats.
Frank Kaminsky carried Wisconsin all day. Goes for 28 Pts and 11 Reb to lead the Badgers to the Final Four. pic.twitter.com/AVZS4RGWMF— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 30, 2014
Up until Feb. 16, he had taken 10 or more shots six times through 25 games. Since then, he has taken double-digit shot attempts in 10 of 12 games while shooting nine field goals in the other two contests.
Forward Sam Dekker gushed about his teammate to FOX Sports' Jesse Temple.
Frank's the man. He can score on anyone. I was talking at the free throw line with Kaleb [Tarczewski, Arizona's center]. I've known him for a while. So we were talking on the court. I was like, 'How awkward is Frank to guard?' He was like, 'Man, this kid is awkward. You never know what he's going to do, but it's effective.'
"Frank is a very effective player. We run our stuff through him for a reason because he's so good. He's been carrying us. No matter who it is, whoever has the hot hand, we're going to go through him, and Frank carried us tonight.
Arizona rose to a No. 1 ranking on the strength of its defense, and the Wildcats had no answer for Kaminsky. Wisconsin should make no secret of its plan to keep giving its breakout star the ball during the Final Four, especially if rim-protector Willie Cauley-Stein is doubtful to play.